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Aun Helden
courtesy of Instagram/@aunhelden

How this artist is challenging conservatism in Brazilian political rhetoric

Aun Helden incorporates phallic and maternal imagery into their work to oppose the rigid binary standards of a cis-heteronormative patriarchal society

Brazilian artist and performer Aun Helden wants to tear down the constructs and constrictions around our bodies and start again. Their work moves towards an understanding of gender and sex that’s free from cis-heteronormative patriarchal definitions. Un-gendering and un-sexing themself in their online artwork, they're rebuilding themself fluidly with seeming full creative autonomy over their appearance. Inspired in part by their mother, and in lieu of a father figure, they've repoistioned themselves as a maternal figure presiding over their own body. Fertile imagery abounds in their work; glossy black eggs, vulvic prosthetics, phallic facial appendages à la H.R. Geiger, and enormous, galactic, empty black eyes.

With the rise of the far-right and the election of president Bolsonaro in Brazil, the climate in Brazil for an artist like Aun Helden, whose work is so fundamentally at odds with conservative ideology, has become even more at stake. Here Aun Helden explains the inspiration behind their vision, much of which is rooted in childhood trauma and the terrifying absurdity of the political situation in Brazil. Despite how otherwordly Aun Helden might appear, this is art with a biopolitical agenda firmly rooted in the human condition that expresses the very real fears lots of young people are battling with in Brazil right now. 

Tell us about the symbolism of eggs and penises in your work.
Aun Helden: I experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence in my childhood and pre-adolescence, so I had my first experiences with sex in the most disturbing way. So for me, it's very important now, with this potent body that I have, to give myself the power to castrate myself, castrate the male, castrate the binary. The power is not with the man that touched me when I was a child, but with me. The eggs, the prosthetic make-up, it's a contrasexual decontextualization, it's a prosthetic incorporation. It's me playing with my body, displacing its origins and maybe replacing them.

You mentioned being a “hacker of the binary system.” Can you explain this further? What is it about gender norms that you that you are fighting against?
Aun Helden: There are two types of systems that hold our world: the male and the female. Those systems are prisons where all definitions, directions and narratives are already constructed, which means people aren’t given the chance to experience themselves in all of their possibilities. They live under their gender essentialisation. I'm giving people a new way to think about their bodies and to destroy all the attributions that we think of when we see a body – we are not organic totalities. What I want is the crisis of the biopolitical system of production of subjectivities. For me there's no solid format for a body with freedom, I don't want to leave one structure and go to another broken structure.

For anyone who doesn’t know, could you explain a bit about what’s happening politically in Brazil, and what the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro means for the LGBTQ community?
Aun Helden: The president of Brazil is a LGBT-phobic, racist, sexist and anti-feminist person and as if that wasn’t enough, he's also bringing a lot of politicians with the same ideas to the Brazilian government. Yesterday, the minister of Human Rights (emphasis on Human Rights) gave a speech saying that Brazil is going to have a new era, where boys will only wear blue and girls pink, where the rules will only be based on the Bible. Here in Brazil, we are trying to build a movement to put gender education in schools, trying to politicize children to not hate different kinds of expressions. It seems like the only thing that Brazilian politicians think about now is destroying our attempt to make that happen, and to preserve the “traditional Brazilian family”. The election of Bolsonaro is giving strength to all conservatives in Brazil, making their hate speech stronger. It's like Bolsonaro is giving them a knife to kill all of us. But realistically, there's no better president to represent what the most Brazilians think, we are already the country that kills the most LGBT people in the world, we’ve lived with all of this for a long time, but are always waiting for change. We are learning that change will never come from them, so we have to become strong with ourselves.

Brazil is known for its body ideals and surgery, which is usually used to enhance curves e.g. the “Brazilian Butt Lift”. What do you think of Brazil’s culture of surgery?
Aun Helden: Yes and Brazil is the country that has the most plastic surgery on young people in the world. I'm not totally against plastic surgery, but thinking about why people do it is what worries me. I change my image too, all the time, it's almost like a surgery for me, but I know my reasons and the point where I want to go with all of it.

Your work seems to directly oppose this traditional culture of surgery  – was that a conscious decision?
Aun Helden: I think all that I do is very conscious. I'm not a crazy person, I have zero craziness in my art, all of my work is very well thought out and I know exactly where I want to go.

What are you working on next? What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Aun Helden: I know that any day the sky can fall from above me. I want to make my art more functional and precise every day. My goal is to conceive my art as a trigger: a trigger which ignites the potential of those who are fighting alongside me and a trigger pointing at those who want to see our end.

What are your thoughts on social media? How was it shaped or facilitated your work?
Aun Helden: I'm constantly attacked by hate messages on social media: last month one of my videos went viral on Facebook and was shared in Bolsonaro groups, so I received hundreds of messages saying I should kill myself or that I should have been aborted. But otherwise, it's where I can create a network with people who do not have some of the privileges that I have, like living in a big city where I can connect with people who are in the same fight as me and to be able to go to zones, even temporary ones (like the parties here in São Paulo which is my main job), of "safety".

What is the future of beauty?
Aun Helden: We just have to destroy the chains from our faces, legs, arms, chest, body and liberate everything that is being locked up. The only thing that I'm sure is that the future of beauty will come with the end of heterosocial norms of being and of producing beauty.